Pillows: How They Can Be Harming (And Helping!) Your Skin


When it comes to helping your skin look its very best (younger, smoother, clearer), there are three things I know for sure:

1. Use well-formulated products for your unique skin type. (Take my Skin Type Quiz.)

2. Sunscreen is the most powerful anti-aging product on the planet. (Use this.)

3. Your lifestyle choices matter. (Read these.)

In this post, I’ll be talking about one lifestyle choice, how you sleep at night on your pillow. You spend approximately 2,500 hours per year spent curled up with it, so good decisions matter depending on your skin concerns and what you’re looking to prevent or improve.

If you have under eye puffiness…you’ll want to sleep on two pillows at night. The theory here is that when your head is elevated, it helps to reduce fluid retention so you’re less puffy both in the face and under the eyes in the morning. (It’s also important to avoid using a really greasy eye cream at night as the oils can travel into the eyes and cause unnecessary puffiness. Read this other surprising nighttime cause of under eye puffiness.)

If you have sallow, tired-looking skin…you’ll want to sleep on a single pillow that is thinner with a low elevation. The theory here is that during the daytime hours, you’re in an upright position for 16 hours and the blood can move away (downward) from the face making the skin look pale and tired in people who are genetically prone to this. So at night, you want to have your head as flat as possible (and ideally, tilted a bit backward) to re-balance that flow and stimulate circulation to the face to give an inner glow. It’s also why I suggest doing this trick three minutes a day, as well as using a well-formulated vitamin C serum like this one.

If you have deep wrinkles that run from the nostril to the corner of the mouth…you’ll want to sleep on your back. Or if you’re a side sleeper, position your head on the lower corner of your pillow like I am doing here. The theory here is that to prevent the deep creases (known as “parentheses” or “marionette” lines), you want to avoid a squishing of the cheeks, which only exacerbates these lines that come naturally with age due to smiling and laughing.

If you have deep horizontal wrinkles across your neck…you’ll want to sleep on only one pillow that is thinner with a low elevation. The theory here is that if your head is elevated while you sleep (especially for those with shorter necks), you are creasing the skin by having your head tilted in a downward position. This is also known as “tech neck” where the 45-degree angle created when you hang your head down to look at your cell phone during the day causes premature folds and wrinkles in the neck. You always want to keep your head as straight as humanly possible. Someone once told me, “You’re only as young as your neck.” (Read my expert tips for caring for your neck.)

If you have chest wrinkles above your breasts…you’ll want to sleep on your back. Known as “cleavage wrinkles”, these are deep, vertical creases caused by sleeping on your side, where gravity forces the top breast to bend farther past the body’s midline than it should. Sleeping on your back is the best option for preventing these but if you’re a side sleeper, there are all sorts of various pillows and gadgets that have been invented to solve this problem, which occurs more often in larger-breasted women. I’ve heard that some people wear a sports bra to bed, tucking a rolled up sock in their cleavage. Sounds kind of genius to me! Of course, wearing sunscreen on the chest when wearing v-neck or low-cut shirts is essential and many people forget to do this.

Now, you may be saying to yourself, “Wait, I have all of these!” Well, as much as your sleep position can be controlled, you simply must choose which of these are your biggest concerns. After all, squishing your face on a pillow or putting your body into a certain position for 2500 hours per year is like ironing wrinkles into your skin.

Of course, you may toss and turn throughout the night so who knows what happens once you are truly asleep, but when you turn the lights out, I truly believe that giving some good thought to your sleep position is important for wrinkle prevention.

Note: If you’re a side sleeper but want to sleep on your back, some companies have invented pillows that can help train you into this new position. I’ve never tried any of them but have come across them online through the years, so do an internet search for these to see what you can find.

If you’re prone to breakouts…many people don’t realize this, but when sleeping on your pillowcase for 7-8 hours a night, you are transferring a lot of oil from both your hair and face onto the pillowcase. Oil ends up on your face when you sleep on your stomach or side. And because oil breeds bacteria which then leads to breakouts, it only makes sense that you’d want to sleep on a clean pillowcase every night.

My professional suggestion is to get two nights out of the same pillowcase. You can achieve this by sleeping on one side of the pillow on one night and then flipping it over on the second night. After two nights, you’ll want to replace your pillowcase with a fresh, clean one. I’ve heard that there are pillowcases made with materials other than cotton that supposedly are more breathable so that your skin doesn’t absorb dirt and oil. If you’re really serious about your skin and want to prevent breakouts, you may want to look into those types. 

And of course cleansing your skin before you go to bed to remove the day’s dirt, bacteria, germs and makeup is essential to keep breakouts under control. A day’s worth of oil on the skin (and bacteria from touching your face all day) will cause more breakouts than just a dirty pillowcase, so please make sure you are diligent about washing your face daily.

Read: 7 Surprising Ways You’re Aging Your Skin
Read: The One Anti-Aging Product (Other Than Sunscreen) That You Really Need To Be Using
Read: In Your 20s? The 10 Best Ways To Prevent Wrinkles— Starting NOW

Which skin care products are best for you? See our nine skin types or take the Skin Type Quiz and get products recommended.

Need expert advice from a licensed esthetician? Schedule a virtual consultation to get customized advice in person, over the phone or online via Skype or FaceTime.For more expert advice check out the blog. Also sign up for our skin tip e-newsletter, follow Renée Rouleau on Twitter and Instagram and join the discussion on our Facebook page. You’ll be your own skin care expert in no time. Get the #ReneeRouleauGlow!

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